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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Ken Lashley talks Milestone Comics and toy collecting with DC in the 80s

This interview started innocently enough: I was walking through artist's alley at the 2018 Ottawa Comiccon when I spotted a full-color Barbara Gordon Batgirl illustration in Ken Lashley's art portfolio spread out on the table in front of him. I was familiar with Ken for being the recent artist on X-Men: Gold, but that's about as far as my knowledge went.  Ken agreed to be interviewed and now you have context.

Ken Lashley smiles up at us. Photo source: Justin F

DC in the 80s: Good afternoon, Mr Lashley. How are you enjoying this comic con?

Ken: It's fun -- it's Canada, my home country. It's always great to do a show in Canada... I do a lot of international shows... so it's always good to be sort of home. Familiar territory.

DC80s: I see you inking an Infinity Gauntlet cover here... [note: it was a variant cover commission for a fan]

Ken: Yep. (happily)

DC80s: Were you reading [Starlin, Perez and Lim's] Infinity Gauntlet when it was first released in 1991? Was that a book you remember picking up in the 90s?

Ken: No, actually I didn't... I didn't buy it. Y'know, I was aware of it, but I didn't buy it in the 90s. I was very specific in the things that I liked back then, and it was out of my scope and realm. I was in school back then, so the funds weren't there to buy all the things you were looking at. I was an X-Men guy. I was buying X-Men and sporadic issues of Image Comics and the Death of Superman -- things you buy here and there -- but most of the time I was buying X-Men stuff.

Ken Lashley's cover for 2014's Superman Doomed.
Yep, that's Doomsday.

DC80s: So, you were mostly a casual comics fan who was really into X-Men?

Ken: Well, I wouldn't really say 'casual' -- you're in school so your budget is limited, right? "I can only afford 2 books a month, so I'm gonna get the X-Men book and something else that my eyes fancy." Don't get me wrong, I went to the stores and looked at them, but I couldn't purchase them at the time.

DC80s: Oh yeah, it was the same deal for me when I was younger. I used to spend lots of time digging through back issues bins for the less-expensive comics (think: 50 cent bin) -- it allowed me to pick up a four issue mini-series for the price of one new comic on the shelves.

DC80s: So what are you working on right now, project-wise?

Ken: I just wrapped up X-Men: Gold, so I just left that and I'm now working on a new Milestone relaunch: Icon & Rocket with Reggie Hudlin -- so I'm doing that. It's very much a 90s thing.

[This is the first I've heard of a Milestone Comics relaunch, so I was quite surprised by this info.]

DC80s: Yes! I had the cards! The Milestone: The Dakota Universe trading cards!

Ken: It's great to be doing it. That's what I was trying to explain a few minutes ago -- it didn't latch on to me then [in the 90s]. I knew it [Milestone] was out there, I looked through the stuff. Denys Cowan is an amazing artist, and it's kinda crazy that I can call him a friend, now.

Ken: So now I'm working on Icon & Rocket and it's an amazing opportunity for me. Getting a chance to work on some of those amazing characters, getting to give my spin on it. Y'know? It's an amazing opportunity to work with some of the most revered black comic books in the history of this business. It's really exciting.

DC80s: I was there on the ground floor; I was collecting comics at the time. Milestone came out and they launched with Icon & Rocket, there was Static, there was Hardware...

Ken: ...Blood Syndicate...

DC80s: Yeah! I remember all those characters from collecting the trading cards. The thing is: the first 3 or 4 issues of the Milestone books were in the newsstands -- I must've been about 11 or 12 at the time and I was buying them from my local corner store. Back then, you'd go to the your corner store and pick your comics off of a spinner rack.

Ken: What's a 'comic book store'? You buy them at the grocery store, you buy them at the variety store. You never went to the comic book store. There was no comic book stores in my neighborhood.

DC80s: We had one comic book store in our small town and my mom forbade me from going there because she felt all the adults hanging out there were sketchy.

Ken: "Sketchy comic book people"? Ha. I love it! (laughing)

DC80s: And the thing is, after the 3rd or 4th issue, they just weren't on the shelves anymore. I didn't really hear about them or see them again until the whole Worlds Collide cross-over event (Milestone characters and the Superman Family characters met up).

DC80s: Can you talk a bit about your new work on Icon & Rocket?

Ken: I wish I could tell you more about it, but I can't. I'll just say that it's an amazing and interesting thing, and it's very timely. It's not an OLD story spun and retold -- it's a current story that uses those Milestone characters.

DC80s: I'm remembering that Icon was an alien, and Rocket is a human with an alien belt that gives her powers...

Ken: Yeah! Very good! So far, so good! (laughs)

DC80s: ...and I'm drawing a blank after that. I think at some point she meets up with Superboy (clone of Superman) and they date?

Ken: Well, they folded those characters into the main DC universe, so you see them having interactions with the other DCU characters over the years. It's great to be able to have them, but this will be the M-universe -- it's going to be a universe unto themselves. I'm not sure if there's going to be a cross-over with the main DCU, but the M-universe is part of the multiverse. So it's still part of the DCU, we're just not in their DIRECT universe. There might be some kind of interaction at some point -- we'll see.

Rocket (of Icon & Rocket) is a member of Young Justice in the animated series.

DC80s: In the past few years, what else has been keeping you busy?

Ken: Well, I've worked on X-Men: Gold, I've worked on a lot of different covers -- I'm a bit of a cover guy -- I've worked for Hasbro toys, so I've done a lot of package art for different things. I'm currently doing the package art for X-Men Legends -- so I do the blister part for that -- I've worked on G.I. Joe, I've worked on Transformers, I've worked on a lot of different things over the years. I've done some covers for Superboy, some covers for Black Lightning... a lot of cool stuff.

Ken Lashley covers

DC80s: Speaking of Transformers... when I was younger -- again, talking about the 80s -- Transformers were too expensive. I had one or two...

Ken: (starts laughing) So you're a GO-BOT guy?

DC80s: (laughs) No... it was G.I. Joes. For some reason, my family (I had a HUGE family with about 14 aunts and uncles) would spoil me me with G.I. Joes for Christmas. I guess because they were at a cheaper price point? But I wouldn't just get action figures, I'd also get the vehicles and playsets.

Ken: Well, you can't go wrong with GI Joe. There's, like, eight thousand G.I. Joes.

G.I. Joe poster illustrated by Ken Lasley

DC80s: Did you collect G.I. Joes, too?

Ken: No,... it's weird,... my parents -- they knew I drew so they gave me papers and pencils -- but as far as buying toys and stuff, I never got that stuff. But trust me, when I became an adult, and I could make my own choices with my own money, I bought a few things. (laughs)

Ken: My collection is pretty crazy: I've got artwork, I've got toys -- I went to Japan and bought a suitcase full of robots -- I mean it was just an amazing time. I've spent a LOT of money on a LOT of crazy fun stuff. So now my wife is like "you're going to need a display case or something to put all this cool stuff". I have a full-sized Silver Surfer in my house from when the movie came out -- it's the 3D mannequin that was in the movie theater. It's in my house... with the board and everything. Dude, I am THAT guy. (laughs)

DC80s: What's your Holy Grail? Your most prized possession?

Ken: My Holy Grail were probably the robots I got in Japan. They were die-cast metal -- Shogun robots and all that stuff on my side table... and my Gamora and all that stuff. As far as comic book art Holy Grail goes, I have two pages of original Jim Lee art from his early X-Men run. So, yeah, I've got two X-Men pages -- and those are my most amazing things ever.

DC80s: Wow. Very cool. Judging from this Thanos you're sketching, I can't wait to see your new Milestone project. Thanks for chatting with us.

Ken: Anytime!

We're going to leave off with some Ken Lashley interior art. He's illustrated tons of stuff for Marvel Comics, but he's also done some interiors for DC comics (as far back as 1998):

interiors for Firestorm The Nuclear Man #33 (2007) 

interiors from Green Lantern: Secret Files #2 (1998)


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